As sports boom across Asia, engaging its fans ought to be a pretty easy win: they are passionate, brand-loyal, and often participate in a sport beyond consuming it on a TV or talking about it on social media. But according to a panel at the All That Matters conference in Singapore, it’s just not happening as well as it should. Why?
Chris Robb, the CEO of Mass Participation Asia, says that opportunities to tap into emotion are simply not being recognised. He says there’s an ‘amazing journey’ when thousands take part in endurance events like marathons or obstacle courses. Although they often sign up six months in advance and train in the long run-up to the race, brands fail to share the journey, “and the many amazing highs and lows to the finish line”. Robb says that organisers need to stay in touch with participants through this journey, keeping track of times, recommending training programmes and building up the sense of shared excitement through social media. There’s a data base, and lots of emotional touch-points such as photos that can be shared. So why’s this not happening?
In part this is because the companies involved simply don’t have the skill sets to understand how to use the data, or recognise and push for the opportunities. But Robb also says there’s a “lack of collaboration”, for instance with rights holders being too protective of their data bases. Instead, they should work with sponsors and brands in the build up to an event. One example of where this has worked is with the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon: the organisers created a virtual queue ten days before the race, with opportunities to engage and share, and prizes for those who took part. This – says Robb – should happen much, much more.
Ben Flint, the CEO of ASN, says that sports are also not keeping up with the pace of change in how media is being consumed, especially the shift to personal consumption on smart phones and through social media. He says that he was expecting engagement with brands from beer companies to airlines, ahead of Singapore’s signature Formula One race, but received almost none. Flint says brands need to look at what fans want: exciting ‘wow-stuff’ that shows that brands are at the forefront of technology; instant gratification such as coupons or competitions; and insights that engage the fan’s interests, for instance through personalised stats about football from companies like Opta.
What about the fans of tomorrow, seemingly too distracted by their multiple devices and social media platforms to watch live sports in the way their parents are used to? Sarah Clements of Lagardere Asia Sport says that these new fans are an opportunity to produce instant and snackable content that complements the main event on other devices and platforms. This can even include micro-payment-enabled e-commerce, a technology that Asia is leading the world in. But, she warns, the fans of tomorrow may not be so loyal to teams – instead they may follow specific players.
The opportunities are there: the fans themselves want them, simply because they are fans! And these opportunities are great for brands too. How often does a consumer avidly and determinedly pursue greater levels of engagement with a product, often staying loyal for a lifetime once they’re hooked? Asian sports fans are an open goal, if only brands recognise the opportunity to shoot.
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